Josh Clark: Mind the Gap: Designing in the Space Between Devices

Orde Saunders' avatarPublished: by Orde Saunders

Josh Clark (@Globalmoxie) was speaking at Smashing Conference about the gaps between devices, these are my notes from his talk.

We're getting pretty good at designing for the range of devices that are out there. What we're not good at is designing for the gap between devices.

The physical gap

In the evening the average UK adult changes device 21 times per hour. Whilst watching TV. 90% accomplish tasks across multiple screens. Frequently start on the phone even if we don't finish there. 67% start shopping on one device and finish another.

We're not managing this. People use search or email to ourselves to pick up where we left off. We're hacking over the physical gaps. This isn't new, remote controls for TV are an example of this. This is not too far from the Chromecast that allows us to switch between a phone/tab and the TV. We can send things to any device in the world but struggle with the ones in the same room.

  1. Remote control
  2. Email
  3. Synchronisation

The behaviour gap

We need to sync tasks between apps, need to save state not just content. We need to use the phone sensors to transition state between devices.

What about multiple people simultaneously interacting, like Chrome racer. Web sockets are very useful for peer-to-peer interaction - WebRTC in particular allows direct communication between browsers. Can be used to exchange arbitrary data - control, actions. Share verbs and nouns.

What if devices talked to each other via sound? Like a modem. You can even do this with web browsers - sonicnet.js. Speakers and microphones on devices can use ultra sound so it's not audible. Can be used to pair devices.

Screens are more of a burden than a help. The computer is no longer bigger than the screen. It's a problem for our attention too, it's isolating and silos us from each other. Now we have sensors we can free people from the screen, design for people not the screen.

Physical interaction

Proximity is a good place to start. We can put our phones next to our laptops and nothing happens. We can have physical sensors that talk to our phone but this is human to device. What about device to device?

Misfit Shine is like a Fitbit. The sync action is interesting, you place the device on the screen but it's actually bluetooth that won't go through the aluminum casing so putting it on the screen gets it close to the bluetooth in the phone. See:

Leap motion, Kinnect - we have the technology already, we just need to work out how to link it together. Sound + gestures is Harry Potter style magic. We need to think about how we use these new inputs, don't try and out mouse the mouse, it's a fantastic pointing device. It's a challenge of imagination.

Physical and digital

What if we put the leap motion next to a model of a building to interact with a floor map? Digital is becoming physical. The physical is becoming digital with sensors and an internet connection. The smartest fridge is the one that can tell you what you've got at home when you are in the shop. Anything that can be connected, will be connected - everyday objects are digital gadgets, physical things have digital avatars. They have attributes and methods.

What happens when your car is your friend on Facebook? Your house is following you on Twitter?

Toy mail is a way to send messages to a child's toy and they can reply to the toy which gets back to the app. Software makes hardware scale. The content evolves, it adds longevity. For example using your phone to provide your car's GPS - the phone stays up to date in a way the car software doesn't.

You can interact with your home appliances but they won't always say nice things. Anything that can be hacked, will be hacked. Hacking someone's home or car could be dangerous. Software is ideology, it's embedded with values.


This is not a technology problem. The technology exists, we need to use it better.

  • Plan for gadget hopping
  • Share actions
  • Peer to peer sharing
  • Off screen interactions
  • Design for sensors
  • Avatars for objects

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